Christian Refugees in Erbil, Iraq 1080p

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Jens Petzold is a Swiss monk who heads a monastery in Erbil, Iraq for Iraqi-christian refugees who fled ISIS attacks on their towns last year. A former resident of the famous Deir Mar Musa monastery in Syria, Petzold first came Iraq from Syria in 2011 in order to rebuild the abandoned monastery of Deir Maryam al-Adha. After the Islamic State started to attack Christian villages in Iraq this past summer, he became the sole caretaker of dozens of displaced families.

Petzold is a charismatic and unorthodox church congregation leader. This footage tries to show how a single person can make a big difference to many refugees as well as show how refugees from the Christian community try to get on with their daily lives, somehow trying to avoid leaving their homeland for good.


In August 2014, the Islamic State captured a number of Iraqi Christian towns in the area surrounding Mosul, among them Karakosh, the largest Iraqi city with a Christian majority. Most of its 50,000 residents fled within a couple of hours on the 6th of August and left most of their belongings behind. Right now more than 100,000 of the already shrinking population of Iraqi Christian community have become internally displaced or fled to other countries. While most of the IDPs have found refuge in Ankawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil and two large refugee camps near the city of Dohuk, a small monastery in Sulaimaniya opened its doors for more than 200 refugees who have now been living in this very crowded place for more than half a year. The monastery with its church and one building houses 80 people, nearby apartments another 100+ people. Almost 70 of them are children.

The author visited Sulaimaniya in March 2015. The entire footage was shot during that time. It includes interviews with Jens Petzold, several of the refugees, shows daily life in the monastery as well as a mass. I accompanied Jens Petzold during trips to the local market, to a Christian graveyard and to another local church community where they are raising funds to build new housing facilities.

The following rough cut is in chronological order as it was shot.

The interviews were conducted in English and Arabic.


  1. [0:00:00 - 0:02:52] Sister Nazek Khalid Matty shows several rooms, kitchen and living containers at the new convent of the Dominican sisters who had to flee Karakosh. Sister Maria: There are 15 containers with two rooms each for the sisters.
  2. [0:02:52 - 0:03:40] Driving to Ankawa Mall
  3. [0:03:40 - 0:06:32] Still shots of daily life at Ankawa Mall, interactions of refugees with Sister Nazek, brief interview with David, a Unicef Aid Worker (and refugee himself) Unicef Aid workers in Ankawa Mall: David David: The refugees think that their priority right now is to provide their families’ livelihood. They don’t care for education. What kind of livelihood does education provide right now? Nothing. So right now they work for 12 hours for five dollars. This is a big problem. Many of them dropped out of college and university because they have no time left. They have to work all day long. There are many camps all over Erbil . In this mall, all of the people are Christian. Journalist: Are you from Erbil? David: No, we [ourselves] are already displaced. We live in the same conditions as the refugees. We feel like them. We want to provide them with the simplest aid we can. We live like them, so we can also work with them.
  4. [0:06:32 - 0:07:58] Little Girl in Anawa Mall: Mirna Fadi, 9 years old & the compartment her family lives in (4 people, father working as an electrical technician in Erbil) - There is no running water and the generator does often not work. - We want to live in a healthy and clean place. - There are so many diseases spreading here. There are bugs everywhere and some of us have scabies. - We want our future, our rights as children. All in the world children have rights, only the Iraqi children have none. - If we don’t get all our rights, then we want at least some of them. My sisters needs to go to the Kindergarden. My mother is working all day long, so if I went to school, no one would take care of my little sister.
  5. [0:07:58 - 0:11:10] Interview with Sister Maria, Head of the Dominican Convent of Karakosh about their living conditions and the circumstances of their escape from Karakosh. Sister Maria: It was sudden. We were not expecting it. On the 6th of August 2014, thre children died after a first attack of the Islamic State on Karakosh. That was a sign, but we did not understand it at that time. The funeral was in the afternoon and just afterwards many people from the town started leaving. But since we were praying the vespers we did not notice anything - so after our prayers I went out and found the streets and houses almost deserted. We waited until after supper, at 8pm, and then I asked the other sisters if they wanted to leave to Enkawa. But nobody wanted to leave. I contacted [the Archbishop of Mosul Youhanna Boutros Moshe] and told him the situation was normal and under control. Just one hour later we received a call from someone working for the Kurdistan Government and who told us we had to leave Karakosh because the Kurdish Army, the Peschmerga, were about to leave Karakosh. I immediately called back Bishop Moshe who then yelled at me for inventing a story about this new situation. Kurdish people confirmed to him that the Kurdish would stay and not desert the place. Finally, at 10.30pm, we decided to leave Karakosh immediately. I also called three Franciscan sisters so they may join us. Sister Maria: We were 35 sisters because at the time some sisters came to us to Karakosh from Bagdad to visit their families. There were also some sisters from the local orphanage and the family of the driver who brought us here to Enkawa. Sister Maria: Now, we live with all the other refugees and work in the camps. Our main mission is to help people to accept and live in these conditions. We want to help them to solve their problems. Our sisters are there to listen to them and to offer some activities for young people - spiritual and social activities. We want to connect young people from different refugee camps so they can have activities together. We try to arrange masses so people may attend every Sunday even in the camps. Also sisters are preparing between 300 and 350 children for their communion. Sister Maria: Christian endowments and [the German pontifical mission] missio helped us to build these caravans and to furnish them. Living in caravans is not easy. The generators are very close and too noisy. The rooms are shaking because of those generators. In winter the rooms were very humid, our clothes were always wet. And now the heat of summer is coming which will be even more difficult.